Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

1959. Love it or hate it, Achebe’s tale of a flawed tribal patriarch is a powerful and important contribution to twentieth century literature.

Think back to 1959. Liberation from colonial masters had not yet swept the African continent when this book appeared, but the pressures were building. The US civil rights movement had not yet erupted, but the forces were in motion. Communism and capitalism were fighting a pitched battle for control of hearts and minds, for bodies and land, around the world. Africans would suffer under the proxy wars waged there to keep the Cold War cold.

Achebe tells the tale of Okonkwo, a young man of some fame throughout the nine villages and beyond for his wrestling prowess. He is a product of his land, his culture, his religion, and his people. He represents a way of life which admires and rewards strength, loyalty, hard work, a strong hand, and strict adherence to a social code.

He builds his life, takes wives, works his land, produces boys and girls to honor and carry on his legacy. When duty to the tribe makes demands, he must respond even if that response requires great personal sacrifice.

You can’t read this book through the prism of your own experience. Part of the mystery of fiction from cultures far afield from your own is the chance it affords to consider how men and women of a certain time and place grappled with the very human issue of living within an exotic social group.

Consider your own social group, and imagine how you would explain your daily and exceptional actions to someone from another religion, from another country, from another language group, from another generation, from another century. Where would you start? Perhaps by considering how you spend a normal day, then how you arrived at the great choices that formed your life. That’s a helluva task to set yourself. In my humble opinion, that was the task Achebe set for himself in writing this book.

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About M L RUDOLPH

M L Rudolph has worked for CNN among other American and British television and film companies. He has written for general interest and trade magazines and published his first novel, Facing the Son, A novel of Africa, on Amazon in 2011. More are on the way. Rudolph is a dual US/UK national and lives in Pasadena, CA. View all posts by M L RUDOLPH

2 responses to “Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

  • Sangsuli

    I am a high school student and read this book earlier in the year. i am writing my final thesis on the book, intending to link this piece of historical fiction to history. I am wondering what you think were signs within Achebe’s novel and especially within the tribes themselves that predicted the Nigerian Civil War that resulted after Independence? I am fascinated by this because my instinct is that Civil War should have been foreseen, and probably was by Achebe. Do you agree? Or at least do you think there was a foundation for making this point within the novel? Thanks for your review of the book; I really appreciated it.

  • M L RUDOLPH

    Hi Sangsuli,

    Thanks for your comments and questions.

    About predictions: the problem with looking backward into a work of fiction to guess at predictions is that we look from today’s vantage point – knowing what ensued – and we can interpret the work however we wish to make our point. Even the author can play this game. Can say, “Yes, I foresaw that happening,” or, “No, that wasn’t my intent.” Human memory is notoriously fickle when self-interest is involved.

    So to answer your question about this specific work and this particular case: No. I would not believe that Achebe KNEW what lay in store for Nigeria. Yes there were tensions within the culture, as there are in all countries where one group exercises a disproportionate and unearned level of power. And history shows us that the people will eventually rise up in revolt and claim fairness – if not revenge. Suggesting that such a revolt might happen is not PREDICTING anything.

    For the Igbo, they were inserted into power by an arrogant and distant colonial power that sought an expedient solution to local rule that would maintain their influence as the world moved toward the dismantling of colonial empires. Were there other ways that the situation could have played out which wouldn’t have involved civil war? I’m sure you can think of some. Have graft and corruption and the abuse of power been eliminated from Nigeria?

    The Cold War played a significant role in the Nigerian Civil War. To my reading such global influence didn’t enter into the Achebe narrative.

    History only looks predictable and inevitable in retrospect. That’s my humble opinion, anyway.

    Have you read: Half of a Yellow Sun?

    Good luck with your thesis!

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